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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9267


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (18:01): In rising to address the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill, I have a vision of these little men or women in olive green uniforms jumping out of their little olive green car with 'fun police' written on the side in a small and discreet font. Since this minority government was cobbled together with a plethora of promises and compromises, we have seen this little olive green car popping up all over the place. The fun police do not want us to enjoy a drink, so they tax the alcopops more. The fun police do not want us to play the pokies, so they regulate them. And the fun police certainly do not want us to smoke, so they put cigarettes in olive green packets. It is as if there is a little Julia or Nicola in an olive green uniform on your shoulder and, when she is not telling you what to do, she is making a sneaky grab for your wallet. We must wonder if there is any place in our recreational lives that the fun police will not show up under this government, because if that little olive green car can fit through the bedroom doorway then I bet it will even show up there too!

I recognise the issues associated with smoking, and in an ideal world the concept of setting fire to a bunch of chemicals and breathing it in would never have been invented. But it was invented; it was invented and it was legal; and it is still legal. At what point do we stop this incessant attack on people who choose to smoke? Is this the end of it? If not, what will be the end of it? For the security of people who smoke and the businesses whose livelihoods depend on the tobacco industry, please tell us where this is going. If you are fully against it, then just ban it. It would be interesting to know if that is the government's end policy. The policy in other areas is: if it moves, tax it; if it does not move, ban it. If they are not willing to ban it, then this is just more hollow rhetoric from this government. If they are not serious, then get back to focusing on something more productive, like getting the basics right on everything else.

The government talks a great deal about leading the world with this plain packaging bill, just like they make a great deal about leading the world with a carbon tax. But do we want a government that is trying to lead the world. As one constituent in my electorate of Dawson said, 'We don't want a government that leads the world, we just want them to lead the country'. We have to ask: if Australia is going to lead the world, is this the government we want to do it? The people out there, the people who are genuinely and justifiably disenchanted with this government, those people do not think this government is capable of leading a dog, let alone leading the world. But here we are, standing on the edge of a cliff, getting ready to be the first to jump and hoping like hell that the parachute is packed right and wondering if someone has really thought this process through. The truth is that plain packaging probably will not work.

It probably will not do a thing to reduce the level of tobacco use, which is unfortunate. It probably will not do a thing to stop people from starting to smoke, which is unfortunate. And it probably will not do a thing to make people stop smoking, which is very, very unfortunate. There is very little research covering what effect plain packaging will have on consumer behaviour. The Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Health noted the lack of evidence to support such a case. Their expert panel found that plain packaging would have a slight to moderate effect on smoking among teenagers.

While the opposition does not plan to oppose the enabling bill being debated in the cognate debate, I do believe that it is a bad bill and the responsibility for this bad bill will ultimately rest on this government. Any legal consequences that arise out of the bill will rest solely on this government. These bills, although they provide a doubtful benefit, also come with an inherent legal risk. Even before this bill came up for debate, there had been significant discussions about potential legal action from the tobacco companies. I can understand why a company that invests millions of dollars into their brand and their trademark would be upset when they can no longer legally use it. There is a serious question about whether or not the government will be liable to compensate for the acquisition of this property in this case. The government will contend that they are not acquiring the property because they are not going to use it. But taking candy off a baby and then throwing it in the bin does not take away the fact that you took the candy from the baby. The fact that there are other legal barriers associated with these bills is of great concern. I refer of course to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and, as the Minister for Trade tends to go on about, the World Trade Organisation's Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights 1994—

Dr Emerson: It is a one-world government.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: Look it up, Craig.

The government believes that there is a loophole. The loophole is in the interpretation of the ambiguous word 'unjustifiably'. The government is willing to stick its neck out here; it fancies its chances with this loophole. But do we want a government sticking its neck through a loophole for legislation that will probably provide very little benefit? We must wonder, given past performances, if the government has fully thought this through. Have they thought through what people will do and exactly what impact this bill will have? Have they considered what the tobacco companies will do? Will the tobacco companies be too scared of the government to take legal action? Will they baulk at the cost of such legal action? This government, and certainly the member for New England, would have us believe that they are here to stop us from smoking, but they are not willing to buy the trademarks from the tobacco companies. Those two statements prove that the government is not really serious about the health of this country.

And what about the consumer and tobacco market in Australia? As I said, I do not believe there will be much effect on the consumer. But what about the market? How will that work? Has the government considered how the industry will be forced to compete on price, and how much more attractive the prices will be to smokers and potential smokers, especially young people? Will the move cause an increase in the illegal tobacco trade? I would like to think that a government would fully think through all the consequences of a bill before it puts that bill before parliament, but history suggests this is not the case with this government.

What will the affect be on shopkeepers and retailers? Did anyone consider the practicality of trying to determine which pack of cigarettes is which when faced with a cabinet full of little olive-green packets? People who work in the corner store and the independent service station are usually very busy people. They are selling, taking money, watching the store and helping customers. There is usually only one person to serve at the counter, and they are run off their feet. What impediments will this bill put on those workers and those businesses? As is the case in some shops, including in my electorate, the person behind the counter may have English as a second language, and that will only complicate the issue.

Another niggling worry I have is that, if the government is right and somehow this bill does reduce the number of smokers in our community, who will then bear the financial brunt? Do they seriously think that it is going to be British American Tobacco? Tobacco firms with a worldwide consumption can easily do a high-intensity marketing campaign in Central America or South-East Asia to make up for the relatively small loss of revenue here in Australia.

The people who do need to worry about a small loss of turnover for the tobacco companies are the corner store and the independent service station, who make a small margin on tobacco but generally rely on the tobacco trade to generate the traffic required for the rest of their trade. If the tobacco companies lose a market they have the money to take the federal government to court, as I mentioned before. Who does a small shopkeeper turn to for compensation? How do they fund a court case against the government? Will the federal government now grant small shopkeepers and independent service station owners a 'cigarette income loss rescue package'? Or will this government pull out the bandaid like they did when they stuffed up the live cattle export trade and put people out of work? Will they once again offer the dole to those who lose their job? This could be one of the unintended consequences of this bill.

While I doubt the bill will actually change consumption, we should never underestimate this government's ability to create detrimental, unintended consequences with whatever they do. Like it has been said elsewhere, this government has the Midas touch, but in reverse. Everything they have touched so far this year has turned to what can only be referred to in parliamentary terms as 'fertiliser'.

What they want to do with this plain packaging plan is to exert more control over what we, as citizens, do. We are being further and further devolved into a people who are not capable and not allowed to make decisions for ourselves. But we are intelligent people who want to be able to make a choice. People want freedom, and if we keep taking away people's choice we are taking away their freedom. Australians do not want to be prisoners in their own lives, with 'nanny state Nicola' making all the decisions for them.

Mr Windsor: Are you voting for it?

Mr CHRISTENSEN: The coalition is not opposing this bill, but I think the bill is very wrong.

Mr Neumann: You read the wrong speech!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Order! I ask members to cease interjecting.